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Photo by Matt D’Annunzio

Esmeralda Herrera ’14


Hometown: The Bronx, New York

Who I was when I got to Reed: I was a dancer, an actor; a sassy, blunt Latina ready to tackle the injustices of the world. My high school didn’t have computers, a library, or classrooms for every teacher. Only 30 students graduated out of a class of 100. The education gap is also psychological; it stays with you, because you’re always going to be catching up.

What I would tell prospies: Reed has a countless number of resources and opportunities. I’m glad I took advantage of them.

Influential professor: Prof. Kara Becker [linguistics 2010–] was able to meet me where I was and helped me become the student I am today. Her support was strict but warm, seeing potential in me especially when I didn’t have the energy to see it myself.

Favorite works of art: African American artist Kara Walker’s pieces are beautiful, exploring topics of race, gender, sexuality, violence, and identity.

Favorite spot: One couch in the student activities office overlooks the canyon. You can open the window, look at the water, and hear nothing but the birds, the heater, and your thoughts.

Random thoughts: Before coming to Reed, I’d never heard the expression “students of color.” Where I came from, we were all people of color. Sometimes you come upon a person who really needs to learn more. It can be frustrating. “I shouldn’t be the only one teaching them.” But in this moment, you might be the only person who can.

Cool stuff I did: I studied in China for a year on the Gilman International Scholarship, worked in the costume shop, and went to New Orleans with Reedies to build a house. I volunteered with an organization for homeless youth, stage-managed a production, and began a student group called Latinas De Hoy.

How Reed changed me: Reed changed the way I view intelligence. What is it to be educated? What is it to be intelligent? They’re completely different things. And if you’re intelligent, what is it you’re bringing to the table? 

Scholarships, awards, or financial aid: Reed gets a lot of love because it makes sure that people who qualify, but need money, are able to get it.

Adviser: Prof. Lal Zimman [linguistics 2013–14]

Thesis: “Racializing Gay Speech, Sexualizing African American English: Style and /t/ Release among Black Gay Men”

What it’s about: My thesis investigates how gay speech and African American English may be used together or separately with other linguistic resources in the production of gay black male speech. By examining sexual ideologies, stylistic practices, and identities as interconnected without losing sight of identity’s complexity, I research how young black gay men negotiate the association between blackness and heterosexuality on the one hand and whiteness and homosexuality on the other.

What it’s really about: Not all black folks sound “black”; not all gay folks sound “gay.”

What’s next: I may work for a while and then go to graduate school or the Peace Corps.